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È per me un piacere e un onore tenere in quest’aula – se ho capito bene – il primo dei dibatti di questa legislatura dopo che avevo avuto il piacere e l’onore di tenere gli ultimi dei dibatti dell’ultima legislatura.
Let me start by congratulating you all either on your election or re-election. Let me also congratulate the new President-elect of the European Commission. Ursula [von der Leyen, President-elect of the European Commission] and I have been working together in these last years very well, in particular on our common work for the European Union defence. I am sure that the Commission will be in good hands.
Among the things on which we have worked together, Ursula and I and also other Foreign and Defence Ministers of the Member States – I see some of them now sitting in this hemicycle as Members of the European Parliament – is the EU Global Strategy that we drafted and then put in place three years ago.
The Global Strategy has been the compass of our work in these five years – in these last three years and the preparation and drafting of it in the previous ones. I want to thank the previous European Parliament for the support in drafting the Strategy, but most of all for turning it into action.
The Global Strategy was the outcome of a truly collective work, with all the 28 Member States of the European Union and with many Members of the Parliament playing a key role – Members of the European Parliament, but also Members of national parliaments and civil society, think tanks. It was really a collective work. It was the opportunity to focus on values and interests – both of them - that we all shared, as Europeans, beyond political families and ideological debates.
We agreed that we needed to strengthen and consolidate our role as a global security provider.
We agreed that the great challenges of our times require multilateral solutions.
And we agreed that Europe can only matter – and it does matter, it does make a difference - in the world if we act as one Union.
Of course, there is much more than this in the Global Strategy. You have probably seen – and I hope [you have seen] the Global Strategy itself – the report that I presented last month to the Foreign Affairs Council, after discussing its content with the AFET [Committee on Foreign Affairs] and DEVE [Committee on Development] Committees in previous mandates in April. We have put together 50 very dense pages of achievements and also possible options for the future. And this is the work I deliver to you for your future considerations: how to use the instruments that we have put in place and how to shape the future Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union.
There is much more than these three concepts in the Global Strategy, but let me focus for the moment on these three points: security and defence, multilateralism, and the idea of a more “joined-up”, a more effective European Union.
First of all, on defence, we have shown that this Union knows how to deliver if there is political will. In some cases, we have achieved even more than we hoped and expected in this field. When we started talking about setting up the Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO] on defence, many were sceptical. And I remember very well that we discussed this for the very first time during my own hearing five years ago in the Joint Committees of AFET and DEVE. Yet, even with all the scepticism and resistance that was there, we did it.
And we went even further, with the European Defence Fund and the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence [CARD]. These are not just names or acronyms. This is real change for our common security. We are helping Member States to make their defence spending more efficient, and develop all the military capabilities that we need – from the skies to the sea, to the cyberspace.
Our international missions have now better command structures, and we have committed to investing more in our civilian action – which remains the pride of the European Union. In short, the European Union of Security and Defence has finally taken its first concrete steps after so many decades where it existed only on paper – or not even on paper.
At the same time, as we strengthened ourselves, we have also strengthened our security and defence cooperation with partners all around the world – starting with NATO but well beyond it.
I have just come back from the Central African Republic, for example, where we work with European Union men and women under our flag alongside UN peacekeepers. And before that, just a few days ago, I was in the Sahel, where we are helping the G5 Sahel countries set up their own multinational military force.
The second point I would like to stress is multilateralism. Europe is a cooperative and multilateral power by definition. It is the very same DNA as the one of our European project. In years when multilateralism and also the UN system have come under increasing pressure, we have invested in multilateralism like never before.
We have stepped up our financial support to the United Nations, for instance – one example for all -, saving the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees [UNRWA] from its funding crisis. We supported the UN Secretary General's reform agenda. But let me say that most importantly, we have always worked to find a multilateral solution to the many and difficult problems of our time.
Not only we are defending the nuclear deal with Iran, promoting the Sustainable Development Goals, implementing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and creating a new generation of “free and fair” trade agreements. But we have always tried to build a multilateral framework where there was none. After this debate we will talk about Venezuela and the International Contact Group that the European Union has promoted to try to contribute to solve the crisis. And I should also mention – as a matter of example - the trilateral cooperation with UN and African Union, the Brussels Conferences on Syria and the regional meetings that we set up to support peace in Afghanistan. These are leading examples of our multilateral approach in concrete terms.
We have not just defended multilateralism but we have also renewed it, with innovative and new solutions.
The third point I would like to stress is the way we work. It was a very important part of the Global Strategy three years ago. I think we have done a lot of work to improve the way in which we work inside the European Union. And here again I want to thank the European Parliament, the previous mandate and I am sure you will continue in this way, for the support and the contribution to our efforts to increase the coherence and the coordination among institutions and within the institutions of the European Union.
Throughout this work, we have been the most successful when we have been united. This was a core idea of the Global Strategy: a more “joined-up” Union is not just a principled choice, one that follows in the steps of our founding fathers and mothers. A “joined-up” Union is also the best way to make our action more effective. Only united we really matter in the world of today. I often say there are no big and small Member States. There are Member States that are small and there are Member States that have not yet understood that they are small in the world of today. So we can only be effective if we are united as Europeans. And only united we can advance our interests and our values. And when we do so unitedly, we do make a difference – sometimes a vital one – not just for us, but also for our partners all around the world.
In these years, we have made progress, I believe, for instance in linking our policies on security and on development, or the internal and the external side of our action through a more coordinated work within the European Commission, thanks to the Group we have established with the Commissioners on External Action that I have convened regularly every month in these five years. And EU Member States – for instance - have coordinated as never before in the UN Security Council, something that seemed impossible just three years ago.
Our progress in these years on this point has been possible because of a collective political will to move forward. But I want to share this with you: I am very much aware that everything we have achieved in this sector, in this field, could prove short-lived if political will fades away.
And this is the message I deliver to you: results need to be consolidated, and the new possibilities that we have opened in these last three, four years can be now explored and expanded. But this requires unity of purpose, determination and, most of all, political will.
The European Parliament has been key to this progress. The Members of the Parliament have been very important actors of our foreign policy – with their own diplomatic missions, with electoral observation, with the oversight of our policies, with the constant focus on human rights, for which I want to thank your predecessors in the hemicycle. Again, I am sure that you will keep working in this direction. So, your role is key.
You have the final word on key and fundamental issues that affect our Foreign and Security Policy. You will have the final word on the new European Union budget, and you will contribute to setting the direction of our foreign policy for the years ahead.
The call for a united Europe is stronger today than it was five years ago. I believe it will be even more urgent and pressing in the years ahead. The choice and the responsibility are yours. I am sure you will be able to respond to this call in the most effective way and the most responsible way, continuing to invest in the global role of our European Union.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-175924
I would like to first of all thank those of you that have appreciated not only the Global Strategy that was presented also thanks to the contributions of the [European] Parliament back then three years ago, but also the work together done with the previous Parliament to start to implement it. I would also like to thank those of you that have underlined the need to, in a sense, sustain and consolidate this work, but also to be consistent on these decisions.
Let me start by probably the most immediate task you will have in front of you if you want to be consistent on the need to have a solid, reliable, credible global player in our European Union. That is what some of you have mentioned: put the money where your priorities are. One of the first responsibilities this Parliament will have is the MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework]. And let me say - just to mention a few numbers -, the proposal that we have made for the next MFF from the Commission side is to increase the funds for the external action of the European Union by more or less 30 percent. I believe this is needed in times of uncertainty in the world, because our partners look at Europe to find a reliable, credible, predictable partner; someone you can cooperate with; someone that invests always in peace, democracy, human rights, and cooperation. But this sometimes requires also the adequate resources to sustain this work around the world.
So I hope that you will work in this direction in these next months, in particular on the proposal we put forward that foresees an increase by 23% of funds for the Trust Fund for Africa. And I think this is very important. We have increased a lot our work with Africa, not only in terms of development or humanitarian aid, but also in terms of political partnership, work on peace and security. This work needs to be even more at the centre of our work in the future. 25% of these funds are dedicated to climate change in our proposal. I really hope that this can also be supported and kept in your discussions on the next MFF.
I do not comment on the situation in Iran, because we will have a dedicated discussion later tonight - for those of you that are willing to spend the night in the hemicycle - on the security situation around the Gulf. But let me stress - and you know that already - how important it is for all of us, collectively, to find a way to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran and also to avoid any escalation and rather de-escalate or help actors to de-escalate around the Gulf. It is a vital security interest for the European Union.
And as I mentioned climate change and climate action and diplomacy, let me also say that one of our other priorities clearly indicated in our work is the work on cybersecurity. Security is not only military, it is also a much broader definition. We know that well. Also in that field there are some actions proposed in the Strategy and in the Report on the Strategy that I think can be carried forward successfully in the future.
Let me also mention three other points. First, some of you mentioned the need to have a credible enlargement policy. I personally believe that this Commission believes in giving a credible perspective for enlargement for the Western Balkans. To me, even the word "enlargement" is not the appropriate one, because if you look at geography, the Western Balkan countries are all neighbouring European Union Member States. It is a matter of reconciliation and unity of our continent. It is also a matter of reconciliation in the region. I really believe that, in particular, opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania is timely now. I really hope that the Council will take that decision in the coming months and not later than that. I think it is an investment in our own security, stability and prosperity.
Let me also say that I also see room for improvement on the work on migration. We have debated this here in this hemicycle in the previous legislature several times. Some of you mentioned the good work that [EUNAFVOR MED] Operation Sophia has started to do. I think that on the external aspects of our migration policies we have done a lot of good work.
I remember - when I arrived five years ago - migration was not part of the external work of the Union at all. It was only an internal aspect of our policies. I believe that in these five years we have established good partnerships with the countries of origin and transit. We have now 26 Return Agreements in place. We have good cooperation with the UN agencies, IOM [International Organisation for Migration] and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] in particular. We have at the same time a sustainable and humane approach with our partners on the external side of migration.
If I have one regret, it is that our Member States and the Council decided to withdraw naval assets from Operation Sophia, which had managed to start successfully fighting traffickers, seizing vessels, arresting traffickers, saving lives at sea, but also implementing the arms embargo on Libya. I think having a naval operation without naval assets does not make our action very credible. So I really hope that there will be some developments in the coming weeks and months that could restore our presence at sea in the moment when this is the most needed, both for the security situation in Libya, but also for leading an effective fight against the trafficking networks across the Mediterranean.
Last but not least, some of you mentioned some criticism or preoccupations and worries on the risk of having a militarisation of the European Union Security and Foreign Policy. Let me say this very clearly: the European Union's way to security is never, never, never an aggressive one. The European Union is - as some of you said - the most successful peace project in history, at least in recent history. We have managed to overcome our own conflicts and crises and on the basis of that experience we are trying to help our partners. We are trying to accompany our partners in their search for peace, democracy and human rights. I see on a daily basis what the European Union militaries - men and women - but also police and civilian security forces do in our missions and operations. What we do is supporting the democratic institutions of our partner countries to build institutions that deal with security and defence, be they armies or be they security forces on the civilian side, accompanying UN peacekeeping missions, trying to establish peace and functioning institutions in the field of security and defence in very difficult circumstances.
Just last week I visited our missions and operations in countries as difficult as Mali, Niger, the Central African Republic. If it was not for the European Union - men and women in uniform -these countries would face probably much, much, much worse conditions on the ground in security terms. So the work we do is never to kill - that is given for granted -; it is never to play an aggressive part in a conflict, on the contrary. Some of you mentioned the strategic autonomy element we are trying to develop. This is exactly to be able to play autonomously that role of peace builder that this world really needs.
So I hope that this compass, as we call it, can be useful also to navigate in these difficult times that you will have most likely - I hope not - in the five years of your mandate. I really count on you to work together with the other institutions and to make the best use of it.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-175926